He Said, She Said, They Said

By Philip Pearce

keenanIT’S ALWAYS A PLEASURE to see local actors Susan Keenan (pictured) or Robert Colter at work. Local playwright Tom Parks has brought them together and supplied them with 75 minutes of diverting material in He Said, She Said, They Said at the Cherry Hall Theater.

The play is a potpourri of duologues and monologues from eight different characters in eight different situations of human relationships.

I have to confess I’ve always been a curmudgeon when it comes to stage monologues. At least the monologues you encounter on most stages these days. To listen to somebody telling you a story, however interesting, about some past experience is a theatrical cop out. Theater is about watching something happen, not hearing about it after it has taken place.

The 20th century’s two greatest monologists were Ruth Draper and Joyce Grenfell. Neither of them to my knowledge ever leaned across the footlights and told the audience anything. They became participants in a story which the audience saw unfolding, pieced together and analyzed as much through the characters whose actions and responses they guessed at as by those of the character they saw and heard.

So a grateful bow to Tom Parks, whose solo pieces in He Said, She Said, They Said follow that laudable theatrical adage “Show, Don’t Tell.” We watch Keenan, as a ditzy card playing matron infuriating everyone else at the bridge table by gushing out her liberal if confused reactions to a son’s gay courtship and marriage instead of concentrating on the card game. In another sketch, Colter is a newly divorced guy at a McDonald’s who realizes he’s ogling a 13-year-old girl patron in an inappropriately un-fatherly way. He pours out his lustful anguish directly at us, but the event is happening as he speaks and his words are the thoughts roaring around in his conflicted mind.

As with Draper and Grenfell, Parks’ monologues are short plays, not recitations. So I was able to pack away my Saturday night curmudgeon gear, sit back and enjoy the evening.

Advance promos promised it would offer studies of contemporary male-female relationships “some recognizable, and some quite astonishing.” Recognizable, yes. Even pleasantly eccentric. But astonishing? I’m not so sure. The eight characters, whatever quirks they may display, fit pretty safely into the kind of well-heeled upper middleclass American values A. R. Gurney gently lampoons in works like The Dining Room and The Cocktail Hour. At one point Colter even does a turn as a gentler West Coast male equivalent of Gurney’s canine heroine Sylvia. We’ve just heard him cooingly overlooked by Keenan, as a lady of the manor too busy writing a card full of clichéd endearments to a friend she doesn’t like to care about the needs of her husband or their dog. Parks’ social vignettes are amusing, but they could hardly threaten the comfort zones of a mature, enlightened Carmel audience.

In the duologue section, my favorite was a scene in a therapist’s office featuring a man named Dan, whose wife we have already heard complain about his inadequacies as a husband. Sent to be psychically sorted out, Dan bumbles through some extended strident inanities which neatly contrast with Keenan’s brief, hygienically detached comments as the therapist. Only in the closing moments, still a single-minded ice maiden, does she offer some significant home truths.

It’s a nice sequence and it fits neatly into the theme of the evening, which the quirky program card explains is self-discovery.

It’s all there waiting to be discovered at the Carl Cherry Theater for just one more weekend, Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2.